Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Boring and Doomed": On the (continued) importance of engagement

In this piece, at Patheos, Jody Bottum returns to one of the themes that ran through his recent and much-discussed Commonweal piece on same-sex marriage.  The piece is called "Preaching Social Ethics:  Boring and Doomed."  "Christianity is fundamentally a metaphysics[,]" the piece states.  "Christendom is mostly an ethics. Our trouble these days is that Christendom is broken."

As with the Commonweal essay, it seems to me that this piece says some important things that are true . . . but also some things that are potentially misleading.  Certainly, as Jody writes (with more flair than I'm able to muster), Christianity is not just about what we are and are not supposed to do; it's about what and Who is.  But, Jody closes with this:

Forget the culture-wars crap. It was a fight worth having, back in the day when there was enough Christendom left to be worth defending. But such as American Christendom was, the collapse of the Mainline has brought it to an end. Start, instead, with re-enchantment: Preach the word of God in the trees and rivers. The graves giving up their dead. The angels swirling around the Throne. Existence itself figuring the Trinity, in how we live and move and have our being. Christ crucified and Christ resurrected. All the rest can follow, if God wants.

I realize it's kind of the thing these days to declare one's weariness with, or to announce the futility and wrongheadedness of, "culture-wars thinking."  And, again, such declarations are understandable.  Christians should not be happy about warmaking and the nastiness, division, snark, and pain that attend today's politics and controversies are nothing to be happy about.  Far better, and far more pleasant, to relish the world's enchantment than to argue about the ministerial exception or to complain about the latest silliness (or worse) being imposed on our children by the Edu-blob. 

Still, I think it is important to distinguish between (a) giving up on complaining about the coarsening of culture and (b) giving up on the important work of moving law and policy in a direction that better protects vulnerable people. Such movement is, in some places, possible and it saves lives.  Everyone who knows and reads Bottum's work knows that he is deeply committed to human dignity and to the pro-life cause, but there's a danger, I fear, that some will hear him to be saying that working for this kind of right-direction movement in the law is "crap."  
Yes, there are failures of metaphysics at the root of the problems that are often seen to be "culture" problems.  There are also constitutional and legislative and executive failures.  Our current abortion-law regime reflects a flawed "metaphysics," but also sloppy constitutional interpretation and misguided politics.  This side of Heaven, I don't think it is an option for pro-lifers to walk away from responding to the latter. The fight to improve - to the admittedly limited extent we can - our positive laws so that they better protect the vulnerable is not inconsistent, it seems to me, with appreciating the deeper roots of the problem. 
This Pope, it seems to me, has not suggested that Christians settle for unjust laws and murderous policy. (If he did, in any event, he would be wrong to do so.). Sure, we should be winsome and attend to witnessing, not merely arguing. But to just walk away because we would rather (as we both would) write about other things hardly seems the lesson of the Good Samaritan. 


Garnett, Rick | Permalink